Reading is one of the few real hobbies I’ve managed to hold onto throughout my time at MIT, not that I have much time to read during the semesters. Still, it’s nice to look back at the past year, which has been a rather difficult one, and remember all of the good books I found time to enjoy. So, to reflect on that reading, here’s some mini-reviews of everything I read in 2022.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt (5/5)
The Secret History is, of course, a famous book, particularly in certain circles. I’ve spent my fair share of time on Tumblr as a teen, and I went through a dark academia phase – it’s a surprise I hadn’t picked this book up earlier. I bought the book over quarantine but never got to it, so, when I found out that it was one of my friends’ favorite book, I decided it was finally time to read it. Turns out, I’m still the same person that grew up on Tumblr, because I really loved it. The novel tells the story of a secretive group of students at a secluded New England college; it’s filled with intrigue, mysticism, and references to the classics. Is it a little corny? Maybe. Is it beautifully written? Absolutely. Above all else, I loved the world that Tartt created in the book, and the ease with which is sucked me in.
The City We Became, N. K. Jemisin (3/5)
I’ll start off by saying that I really wanted to like this book. From the second it was announced, I found myself excited by the concept: sentient cities? A fantasy love letter to New York? I was hooked. So hooked, even, that I waited for the paperback release so that I could buy my own copy. When, after some trials and tribulations, I finally got my hands on a copy this summer, I dove right in. I was back home in New York for a couple of weeks, it was perfect timing. And still, despite all this, I couldn’t bring myself to love the book. Although I liked the concepts of the book–sentient cities and the different “avatars” that carry their spirits, gentrification as a living, breathing evil–Jemisin’s writing style made it hard for me to stay grounded in that world. I’m a fan of flowery, (often needlessly) complex language. I like texts that make me work for their meaning, and this was one didn’t. Jemisin is, however, an extremely popular and successful author, so I imagine her writing must appeal to most people, just not to me.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn (5/5)
One of my closest friends is a biology and philosophy double major, and every now and then he lends me a book to read about the philosophy of science, or something adjacent. This classic book by Kuhn was the first in the series of his suggested reading, and I actually read the bulk of it in 2021, but set it aside before I could finish it. So, in 2022, I came back and finished off the last chapters. The book presents Kuhn’s famous theory about the progression of scientific knowledge: he argues that science is not a continuous series of discoveries, but rather a series of “paradigm shifts” that change the very assumptions on which a field of science is founded. Overall, the book was a good introduction to this sort of meta-thinking about science, and it was interesting to engage with science as a field in itself.
All Systems Red (and the rest of the Murderbot series), Martha Wells (5/5)
Sometimes all I want is some mindless science fiction: something fun, that reads easily and has the cadence of any of my favorite scifi shows. The trouble is, most “easy” sci-fi on the market is either poorly written, needlessly misogynistic, or both. The Murderbot series, in contrast, is perfect. It’s well written, funny, has an interesting plot and a cool setting. It feels mindless and reads quickly while also touching upon some serious themes, like the concepts of identity, agency, and the curse of late-stage capitalism. I cannot recommend this series enough.
The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut (5/5)
Kurt Vonnegut is my dad’s favorite author, so we have plenty of his books at home. Despite this, and despite science fiction being my favorite genre, I had never read him before this year. This summer, I decided to remedy that, and picked Sirens of Titan out from my dad’s shelves. I ended up reading most of the book in one sitting, during one particularly awful night of traveling (described here). I understood why my dad likes Vonnegut so much–he writes with a dry, cynical sense of humor that I enjoy a lot. The book was a perfect mix of absurd, entertaining sci-fi and genuine social commentary; I look forward to reading more Vonnegut in the future.
Things I Have Noticed, Sophia Hembeck (2/5)
I picked this book up on a whim, this summer in Berlin. I was in a weird mood, walking around the city, and stopped by a bookshop because that’s what I do when I walk around the city in a weird mood. I was yearning for something contemplative and slightly odd, and this book, subtitled Essays on leaving / searching / finding seemed exactly that. Self-published by a German-born author living in Scotland, the book contemplates the concepts of home, belonging, and the search for one’s self. Some of the ideas Hembeck put forth were interesting, but I didn’t really gain much new insight, and I really didn’t enjoy her style–another case of personal preference, maybe.
The Undercurrents, Kirsty Bell (4/5)
This book was another spontaneous Berlin purchase. It’s a semi-historical, semi-autobiographical piece about Berlin, and about Bell’s relationship to it. She starts with her house in Berlin, and its leaking pipes, and walks through the entire history of Berlin, always coming back to her house and the view from her window. This intertwining of the historical and the personal was really well done, and helped carry the narrative of the book. I also learned a lot about Berlin – despite having I was literally reading this in August on the plane out of Berlin the summer there, I didn’t really have a good sense of its history beyond the Cold War years. I’m glad I read the book when I did–it helped put my own experiences into context.
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Monk and Robot #2), Becky Chambers (4/5)
Becky Chambers might just be my favorite author. Ever since discovering her through the Wayfarers series, I have been looking forward to each new release with anticipation. She writes a kind of pure, optimistic scifi, filled with diverse–and often queer–characters. The Monk and Robot series explores a post-post-apocalyptic utopia: a world that has caused its own destruction, and then moved past it to a brighter future. The books follow a monk and a robot as they journey through this world and ponder the fundamental questions of life. It’s slow, meditative, and so, so warm.
Wind / Pinball, Haruki Murakami (3/5)
I’m a big fan of Murakami’s writing, despite some of its persistent for one, his representations of women are often rather misogynistic . I enjoy his style, as well as his intricate, almost mystical plots. This book, however, was Murakami’s first, and I could feel that in the prose. It felt less refined: a lot of the elements of what I love about his books were there, but they were not yet at the level that I have come to expect. The prose felt rougher, the plot was more nonsensical than not. It was an okay read, but more than anything, it was interesting to see the origins of one of my favorite authors.
I’ll also mention some books I’ve made decent progress on, but haven’t finished just yet:
- Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer: a beautiful book about Indigenous views of nature.
- Conjectures and Refutations, Karl Popper: another famous theory of how science advances.
- La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind), Carlos Ruiz Zafón: a novel about a mysterious book, set in mid-20th century Barcelona.
I look forward to finishing these books and others in 2023 :)
- I was literally reading this in August on the plane out of Berlin back to text ↑
- for one, his representations of women are often rather misogynistic back to text ↑